May 2, 1867, to Aug. 15, 1930.
"Piddu," "Clutch Hand," "Peter"
Morello was perhaps the most powerful boss in the early New York City Mafia. He served in the boss of bosses role twice and had influence over Mafia organizations as far off as Chicago and New Orleans.
Born in Corleone, Sicily, in 1867, Morello and his Morello-Terranova family moved to the U.S. near the turn of the 20th Century. After finding Louisiana and Texas not to their liking, the relatives settled in New York City. In Italian Harlem, around East 107th Street, they established the Morello Mob (sometimes referred to as the 107th Street Gang). Morello also did some traveling to New Orleans and Chicago and corresponded with Mafiosi in both communities.
Morello teamed with New York's downtown (Little Italy) Mafioso Ignazio Lupo. The two became related when Lupo married Morello's half-sister.
The Morello-Lupo gang specialized in protection, Black Hand extortion rackets and counterfeiting. Morello's experience with counterfeiting extends back to an apparent conviction for the crime as a young man in Sicily.
Violence was commonly a part of their business, and the gang is said to have murdered dozens on a property near Italian Harlem that became known as the Murder Stable. (This appears to be largely the stuff of legend.)
Morello and Lupo cooperated with Sicilian boss of bosses Vito Cascio Ferro on the importing of Sicilian-manufactured counterfeit American currency through the Brooklyn docks. The Secret Service was quickly on their trail, but the two gang leaders were well-insulated from the street level pushers of phony bills. The arrest of gang associates led to the murder of Benedetto Madonia - an incident that became known as the "barrel murder." The earlier murder of Brooklyn's Joe "the Grocer" Catania also appears to have been related to the counterfeiting operation.
The Morello-Lupo luck ran out after a real estate investment racket lost a ton of money. The gang leaders needed to produce home-made cash to pay off investors. The Secret Service nabbed them in 1909, and Morello and Lupo began lengthy prison sentences the following year.
During the decade Morello and Lupo were in prison, their Mafia organization lost ground to rivals in Brooklyn and the Lower East Side. Morello lost a beloved son to street violence. Morello's half-brother Nicholas was gunned down in 1916.
By 1920, Giuseppe Morello was back in New York. One source claims that he opposed and fought against rising Mafia star Joe Masseria. That claim makes little sense, and its only known proponent is forced to suggest that Morello surrendered to Masseria TWO times in succession in order to explain some of the violence he says occurred during the Mafia civil strife. He also is at a loss to explain the extremely close relationship between Masseria and Morello just a few years later or the ongoing close relationship between Masseria and Morello's half-brother Ciro Terranova.
Morello was clearly in Masseria's camp when Joe the Boss eliminated boss of bosses Toto D'Aquila in 1928. Masseria decided that a conservative Sicilian element in the new world Mafia was becoming rebellious, and he attempted to quiet the rebels by announcing that well respected Morello was the new boss of all bosses.
The 1930 assassination of Morello in his New York offices initiated a purge of Masseria puppet rulers in the New York Mafia. That became the Castellammarese War.
© 2007 T.Hunt
The American "Mafia"